Raindance Film Festival | 2019
"A lot of people do, and it’s hard to get back out again. Along with Hilda, I think we all often found ourselves in pretty difficult positions during the making of the film - it was also one of the best experiences."
Dir. Rishi Pelham
Nearing her final year of school, Hilda's aspirations hit rock bottom when she is forced to contend with the abandonment of her parents and the dependency of younger siblings.
Hi Rishi, it's great to talk to you, how's everything going?
Great to speak to you too. Didn’t get enough sleep last night but otherwise good, thanks.
Any nerves ahead of your World Premiere of your debut feature at Raindance Film Festival?
Yeah quite a few, they come in waves. Raindance is my first film festival and with Hilda being my debut feature, I'm not really sure what to expect.
What does it mean to you to be having Hilda at such a huge festival in London?
It’s a privilege. You never know what to expect when you finish an independent film and start sending it off to festivals like Raindance. Tom (producer) broke the news to me while we were completing the final mix and I didn’t believe him at first. I couldn’t be more thankful, it’s our first chance to share this film with a public audience - and what a platform to have to do that.
Can you tell me a little bit about Hilda, how did this film come about?
I was on a tube three years ago and it was rush hour. Everyone was wearing the same, deadened expression. There was a line of people in business suits sitting in front of me, on the far right this school-kid was dancing on her seat listening to a metal song on her headphones and having the best time. I couldn’t get that image out of my head. She didn’t look like she necessary had any fewer problems than everyone else, but all she really needed was some thrash metal and an iPod. Somehow Hilda’s story sprung from that.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
Music. What happens when your society prevents you from being creative. I returned to see a friend of mine who I had left behind for many years. The aspiring artist who had dragged us both through our crazy, childish ideas when we were younger had found herself without friends, family and home. The story isn’t only based on her, or anyone in particular really, but it inspired me to write Hilda.
"Listen to people who know what they’re talking about, or who have been in the industry and have seen how things work."
How important was it for you to make your debut feature a film that explored the complexities of modern-day youth in London?
It was most important for me to explore the complexity of Hilda. Her perspective on London turns from love to hate at a very young age. That is the nature of London though. At the right place, right time, with the right people the city is a fucking maze of energy, music and life. Hilda loses herself in that. She goes on a night out with her best friend, Ayala, and finds herself tripping out in a rave and then crashing an Indian Wedding. It’s the kind of city where that stuff can actually happen. But if you’re not in a good place, for whatever reason, you can drown here. A lot of people do, and it’s hard to get back out again. Along with Hilda, I think we all often found ourselves in pretty difficult positions during the making of the film - it was also one of the best experiences.
What was the most challenging part of bringing Hilda to life?
I think everyone in the cast/crew would have a different answer, but in terms of production, it was probably the very beginning. We found ourselves with a completed script, an incredible team, a full idea of how we wanted this film to look and sound but no funding. I knew that once we started that would be it, and a lot was going to change. We were seriously thinking about either just doing a short or putting it on hold and going back to our jobs - but then instead we quit our jobs and gave it our best shot.
For the direction, I knew the character like the back of my hand, but I was terrified of holding back or conforming subconsciously to what would be expected of someone in Hilda’s position. I was constantly trying to make sure I was true to her rather than the expectation of how she should/shouldn’t be living her life.
The whole team, particularly Megan and Yasmin kept pushing me as well as themselves throughout the entire process. They were fantastic to work with, we spent months work-shopping together to create Hilda and Ayala before bringing anyone else on board.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yeah, pretty much. Someone reminded me of a film I made when I was 11 the other day. It was a horror film about cigarettes that made everyone throw up blood around the city, we made litres of the stuff.
Now that your debut feature is complete what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film?
Listen to people who know what they’re talking about, or who have been in the industry and have seen how things work. I’m ashamed of the fact that I was arrogant enough to think I knew how to do everything. I really didn’t and in some ways, I still don’t. At the same time, I don’t think you always have to agree with everyone piece of advice you get. You don’t have to take anything on that doesn’t feel right. If I had listened a bit more earlier on rather than taking every criticism as an attack when it was actually constructive advice, then certain parts of the production process could have potentially been a lot smoother.
Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?
I had the privilege of working with the editor of The Crying Game, Kant Pan, on Hilda’s edit. I remember, when we sat down after he saw my 3-hour long first rough cut, he said, “We’re now going to go through every scene. If you can tell me what it serves to the story, it stays in. If you think it’s a pretty shot, a good bit of acting, or a memorable moment for you all or whatever, then it’s out.” Won’t ever forget that.
And finally, do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
One thing I learnt over this process was that, at the end of the day, all that matters is the story. I believe that if you have a story to share that you don’t want others to tell for you - that you know is true - then everything else comes along with it. Then you are willing to put the work in, and will not stop until it is shared.